Traveling Dome

Master Thesis
May 2022

This thesis draws inspiration from a woman walking over a concrete dome. Alia Farid’s work for the 32nd Sao Paulo Art Biennial was recorded on the Rashid Karami International Fairgrounds, in Tripoli. Those watching the video on the occasion of the Biennial have experienced the feeling of an estranged familiarity, for the dome in Tripoli is in direct tension with an important form of the Brazilian architecture imaginary—one that not by accident also appears instantiated right outside the same Biennial pavilion. Farid’s video explores the semiotic resonance of those two sites through close-ups and carefully positioned shots that make one question whether that scenery is familiar or not. The walking over the dome incites a familiarity in those who already know by heart the curvature of that architecture.

Farid’s video returns to Brazil a form that traveled to Lebanon in 1962 together with the architect Oscar Niemeyer. Between temples, museums, theaters, and political stages, the spaces created by these domes are endowed with an uncanniness from their form. These semiotic resonances establish a connection between them—a horizontal dialogue that arises from architecture and surpasses it. The dome’s travel, I want to argue, can be read as a symptomatic episode of the post-war developmentalist agenda in the Global South. Taking the Experimental Theater in Tripoli in conversation with the Palace of Expositions in Sao Paulo and the National Congress building in Brasília, this thesis understands travel as the repetition of a formal solution and its mediatic dissemination, which allowed this architecture to reach territories beyond its original locations.

Niemeyer’s Brazilian and Lebanese domes are, therefore, interconnected by ideas of progress, modernity, nation-building, and failure. While in Brazil, the fiction of democratic consolidation with the inauguration of Brasília in 1960 was postponed by the 1964 Military Coup, in Lebanon, the national sovereignty and cultural emancipation represented by the Fairgrounds was suspended by the Civil War in 1975. In the promise of infrastructure as a guarantor of development, architecture has been entrusted with a central function, closely tied to a powerful state constitution. States change faster than constructions, and the gap between the fluidity of ideologies and the permanence of buildings allows that certain spaces produced through specific claims ended up being occupied with conflicting goals.

Complete Thesis